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back to article Star probe Kepler finds many multi-world alien suns

Boffins analysing early data from NASA's exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope say they've been surprised to detect an unexpectedly large number of star systems with multiple planets. Kepler spots planets orbiting other suns by noting the changes in the light emitted by the star when a planet transits in front of it. The …

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Silver badge
Coat

Am I the only one who thinks...

...we should not go to another planet until we learn how to take care of the one we have now...

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Troll

You mean "Earth First.."

"..We can strip ine the other planets later."?

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FAIL

What a staggering lack of vision you have

There will always be something unsolved here on Earth. Something. Environmental problems, poverty, hunger, natural disasters. Why should space science and exploration be sidelined? This is a science that has the best chance of offering insights and solutions into how to fix things on a planetary scale, by looking at our own and other planets and solar systems, and building systems that can monitor and possibly even modify our climate, energy generation and living systems.

With an attitude like yours, you had better not have a car, DVD player or computer. That money could have gone to other people, and think of the pollution you're causing.

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Re: Am I the only one who thinks...

I wish you were the only one, but sadly there are many. There are a host of reasons for which "don't go to space until Earth is a utopia" is a very badly misguided notion. One of these is that there will *always* be problems on Earth. Another is that we still have no 100% guarantee that there *is* a way to live sustainably on Earth without massive population dieoff followed by endless stagnation - we all hope there is, but we don't know for sure. Another is that the money spent on space exploration so far is actually a very tiny amount compared to what we spend on truly useless or harmful crap.

My favorite, though, is that there's freakin' seven billions of us, and if we can't manage to pursue two objectives at the same time, then we're too stupid to live. If I can walk and chew bubblegum, then humanity can have a big-ass space program and stop screwing up the planet.

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WTF?

You Do Know...

that more $$ are spent yearly on pet food than space budgets...right?

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Anonymous Coward

budgets & petfood

another good one goes along the lines of "Ford spends more money developing a new model of car than has ever been spent on fusion research".

My personal favourite, though, is/was (a few years ago) "the worldwide market in Raman Spectroscopy kit is several hundred million dollars. The worldwide market in Ramen noodles is..." (I forget, but there were quite a large number of extra zeros).

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Silver badge
Boffin

Solar plane

"As an example, an alien Kepler looking at our solar system from some directions and seeing Earth would miss Mercury and Venus, as their orbits are slightly tilted with respect to ours."

But they'd see Mars and the gas giants, right? I thought that most solar systems were expected to have their planets in broadly the same plane, having formed out of a protoplanetary disk?

They're not saying they've spotted every planet in each star's orbit, just more than one.

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Bronze badge
Boffin

Re: Solar plane

Not really, even if the plane of orbit (call the ecliptic plane in the solar system) is even a little bit off then none of them will cross the star's face.

One question I do have though is that conservation of angular momentum being what it is, would that not tend on average for planetary systems to align more preferentially to the galactic plane than away from it? And that is why you would see more of them than if you assumed a random distribution of plane orientations?

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Gold badge
Coat

"...alien life along the same general lines as that of Earth."

In that case maybe the boffins have already found one, but its inhabitants have taken out a super-injunction preventing them from admitting it.

Let's face it, we would too if the alternative were repeated BeTwatBookSpace-spurts aimed in our direction......

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Alien

So no Ringworlds detected yet then?

Tanj!

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Silver badge

But there's the wandering planets

Those wandering planets a long way from a star might include the Puppeteer home world.

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Alien

Anyone got -

a starseed lure?

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Nice to see Kepler getting a name check.

Aside from the astronomy, etc, didn't he nearly invent calculus?

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Headmaster

Not really!

No Newton invented the differential calculus. And Kepler did not invent astronomy.

Really the state of education is frightening.

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Anonymous Coward

Calculus

It's not as simple as saying Newton invented it.

Calculus has many hundreds of contributors to the ideas that brought it about, of which one was Kepler, and his laws of motion.

But Leibniz was the guy that "almost invented" calculus.

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calculus

Leibniz is popularly regarded as the "runner up", true, but he was a contemporary of Newton. Kepler's work was a century earlier and there is a well argued view that had he but went one step further, he'd have come up with calculus (The Watershed is an excellent biography of the man). Hence the form of words "nearly invent".

James Loughner - if you can spare 5 minutes from sitting on your pedestal, making snarky comments about other people's education, you might profitably use them to work on your reading comprehension. It was a very short sentence and nowhere in it did I claim that Kepler invented astronomy.

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Boffin

Hard sums

Newton invented (discovered??) fluxions, told nobody, and published mathematical work that he reversed engineered into non-fluxion mathematics from his fluxion work.

Leibniz invented a calculus that was slower and more awkward to use.

Newton refused to believe Leibniz invented calculus and done everything he could to discredit Leibniz.

Modern calculus has very little to with either Newtons or Leibnizs calculus and is based on limits, however Leibniz had the last laugh as we use his dy/dx notation.

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Gold badge
Thumb Up

When "expecte" meets observation

Exciting things can happen.

Like the surprising number of "wandering" planets.

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Bronze badge
Welcome

Ahem...

"Jupiters are the 800-pound gorillas stirring things up during the early history of these systems," explained Latham.

I for one would like to welcome our new 800-pound Space Gorilla overlords...

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FAIL

Keep It Simple Stupid

"Latham and his fellow boffins think that the flat systems exist because they have no massive gas-giant worlds like our own Jupiter, which could affect other planets' orbits with their strong gravity."

OR SIMPLY!

Because the stars have so many bloody planets going around them!

KISS

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Why would it be unexpected?

We have good information on one solar system - ours - and it has multiple planets. Seems reasonable to expect that is the norm.

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Silver badge

"Seems reasonable to expect that is the norm"

No, it is not. Any scientist will tell you that very little can be concluded from a sample size of one.

The only thing that we can reasonably deduce from studying our own solar system is that other stars may have planets, some of which may be gas giants.

The reason this study is interesting is the sheer number of stars we detect that do actually have planets. To think that a full third of a given sample have planets - and a disk that is facing us so we can detect them - is simply a staggering number.

In fact, it seems to me that, if 33% of star systems we can survey just happen to have planetary discs facing us, then a fair share of the others stars most probably have planetary discs as well, just not facing us.

If that is indeed the case, then we can venture that stars with planets is indeed the norm, which, all of a sudden, gives us a staggering number of planets to visit when we finally get our stuff together for intergalactic travel.

And that gives us every reason to get our species off this planet and into the stars, because once we do, near-infinite resources will become available.

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Lots of dino killers there?

I dimly remember that having gas giants in a solar systems is a good thing because they help sweep up the majority of stray asteroids and comets and thus "calm" a solar system, so the potentially life-bearing planets don't get reset to zero every few thousand years.

So, would the bad news here would be that these systems are the equivalent of giant Xtreme Snooker tables?

I think it was a book by Phil Plait or on the Bautforums that I read that. Some serious astro-boffins around there.

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Flame

I have a question

There's one question I have about the way this program works.

Kepler works bit detecting slight variations in the light from the offending star dimming as an object passes between the star and Kepler.

So how do they know that it's a planet passing thru and not a bit lump of ice/debris/alien spaceship etc?

There could be millions of objects passing between the star and kepler. So to filter out the dross you would need to see regular transitions?

Would it take circa one earth year (or thereabouts) to see meaningful results? An object that orbits a star in around 2-3 months is likely to be extremely close to the host planet and scorched to buggery. IE not life sustaining.

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Bronze badge
Boffin

Re: I have a question

You would be able to tell from the shape of the light curve as the object passed in front of the star. If the object was smaller but nearer to the observer the light curve would dip sharply and then rise again just as quickly, a "blip" if you will. You can observe this as asteroids or planets eclipse distant stars.

Light curves caused by planets in close proximity to the star would only show a very small dip in the light curve, hardly detectable. That's the point of Kepler, getting ever greater sensitivity to ever smaller objects nearer to their host stars dimming their light output by ever smaller amounts.

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Re: I have a question

@ Marc 25 - Repeat orbits. A planet will pass across the star multiple times, with the same light curve. If the drop off time at the edge of the star, which depends on the width of the planet, and the transit time, which depends on the speed in it's orbit, are identical on two passes, you are fairly sure it is a planet.

This is why it is taking time for Kepler to confirm planets. Seeing one transit only gives you a light curve, but it could be a large planet moving fast or a small planet moving slow to give the same edge drop off and rise times at the ends of the transit. The time to a second transit, which equals the orbit period, gives the absolute size of the orbit, and thus the speed in the orbit. From that you can get the planet size.

Further out planets are going to take longer to detect, since the orbit period will be in years or decades. We will also find fewer of them, since big orbits need to be more closely aligned to cause a transit. But you can extrapolate from the ones you *do* see to estimate how many there are in total.

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